Review/Interview: Gilmore & Roberts – Conflict Tourism


Conflict TourismKatriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts are a really good act, there is no doubt about that. Their previous 3 records of contemporary roots music have set them up well on the UK scene. Their ability to play with a swagger and sass that drives their songs firmly in to your head is a trait not to be taken lightly. For a duo armed primarily with guitar and fiddle, it would be easy to plough through the trad standards, and maybe throw in the odd self penned track that, while original, sticks tightly to the tried and tested formula.

Gilmore and Roberts however don’t do this. Yes, they use the tradition as a base, for anyone who has ever heard them that is quite plain to see, however from that solid base comes a sound that pushes and pulls in different directions, experimenting with other genres both closely associated with the defined ‘roots’ world to which they come, but also others that sit way outside the remit.

And it’s this ability to defy genres, by no means in a rebellious way, but a musically exciting way that makes their new album ‘Conflict Tourism’ such a good listen.

The word conflict is what much of the record is built on. As they state in the notes that accompany this release, their songs discuss conflict on many different levels, whether an internal struggle between positive and negative, or a healthy body and a disease. This is not a concept album however – more a banner in which to store these songs that have a common theme. It gives the listener something extra to think about as they go through the record, which is an interesting idea.

The open track ‘Cecilia’ is a catchy, dare I say poppy affair that could easily be picked up for daytime Radio 2 play. You know a song is catchy when your 5 year old daughter starts humming it having heard it in the car! Katriona Gilmore on lead vocals here, and as on previous albums lending her voice to the more contemporary numbers, with Jamie taking lead vocal duty on the trad, and the trad inspired efforts.

Which is exactly what happens on the brilliant ‘Jack O’Lantern’. A quiet, yet pulsating groove with haunting fiddle licks back Roberts rich vocal telling the story.

Peggy Airey in similar vain, however this time the musical accompaniment is big and bold, syncopated grooves and Gilmore’s fiddle an urgent bluegrass style that thunders in two thirds of the way through the track.

A mellower approach to the optimistic ‘Peter Pan’, and the haunting, minimalist ‘Time Soldiers On’ are also highlights, and provides nice contrast to the more upbeat tracks – something it appears the artists have thought about. A stand out element of the record, as with all of their work is the of course the harmony vocals – and on these tracks, as with many others on here, they are spot on.

A cliché, but there isn’t a poor track on this record. Consistency has never been an issue with this act, and with this record they are as consistent as ever. You can tell there is a desire to experiment even more with different genres and I’ve no doubt that’ll happen in future. However, for an album that has its roots embedded within the scene, yet brings so much more to the table allowing an accessibility a non folk music fan should favour, as a continuation of their excellent output so far, this album will do them very well.


We also managed to catch up with Gilmore & Roberts to ask a few questions about the album…

Your soon to be released 4th album ‘Conflict Tourism’ is based around conflict that can happen to anyone in all walks of life and anywhere in the world. Did you set out to write a whole album on this subject or did it happen organically?

It was entirely unplanned – we noticed quite a few of the songs had phrases or words relating to warfare, and then as we looked at the subject matter across the individual songs, we realised that ‘conflict’ doesn’t have to mean full-blown war – it can be smaller, everyday decisions. Most of the songs fitted under the heading in one way or another. Someone told us about the growing industry of ‘conflict tourism’ – people being led by tour guides to the edge of currently war-torn areas – and, although that idea seems very strange to us, we discovered that by applying the phrase ‘conflict tourism’ to our songs, we became the tour guides, navigating the everyday dilemmas we’d written about.

The album weaves from a contemporary sound, to more traditionally inspired and back again. Do you bring these defined styles to the project individually or is the writing a collaborative effort?

We write separately, but a great deal of the sound and shape of the song comes together when we arrange it, which is a fully collaborative process. By now, we each have a pretty good idea of what will work and what won’t, but it’s still surprising how much changes between the writing and the final arrangement!

Your live shows have received high praise. There has been a shift in recent years with many artists now seeing touring as a more important element of being a musician than recorded material. Where do you stand on this?

Recording is an important part of the job, as it’s vital to have a product (whether it’s an album, EP or single) that matches the quality of what you do live – not necessarily replicates the live show, but something that represents your music well. Many acts (us included) release a new album every 2 years or so – however, in that period of time, we probably play more than 150 shows. So while both are important aspects, we definitely spend more time playing live and rehearsing than we do recording – in the circuit we play in, it’s really the root of the job.

Whilst you have what most people would describe as a folk music line-up instrumentally, and through your songs it’s easy to hear the influence the tradition plays in much of your material – the new record does bring in a number of different styles. Do you think your future recordings will feature this more hybrid, fusion type sound, and is there a particular musical genre you want to experiment with that you haven’t yet looked at?

The choice of genre and style was mostly dictated by the songs – it’s quite exciting to think of an album and a live performance as two completely separate experiences, which made us a little less cautious when it came to the point of recording this time. Between us two and Mark Tucker (who produced the album), we approached each song as an individual track rather than worrying about whether it would fit together with the rest of the album, which gave us more freedom to experiment with the instrumentation and try out some of the sounds we were imagining in our heads. As for future recordings – who knows? We’ll have to wait and see!


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Review/Interview by Phil Daniels

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